After taking the bestseller charts by storm in 1984 with his debut novel, The Hunt for Red October, former insurance agent Tom Clancy became the best-known name in modern espionage fiction with his string of riveting action thrillers. Often featuring his most famous main character, Jack Ryan, his books have been adapted for the big and small screens as well as video games many times over the years with no sign of slowing down. Here are a few of the Tom Clancy film adaptations we’ve enjoyed over the past three-plus decades, just in time to get ready for the new Without Remorse at the end of April.
The one that started it all, director John McTiernan’s smash follow-up to Die Hard, features Sean Connery as a Soviet submarine captain who’s hatched a plan that could involve defection or all-out global war—and Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) holds the key to finding out. An all-star cast, a powerhouse score by Basil Poledouris and one of the screen’s cleverest transitions between two different languages make this one a must for Clancy fans. The film also ended up taking home an Oscar for Sound Effects Editing, one of its three total nominations (also including Film Editing and Sound).
Harrison Ford took over the role of Jack Ryan for the character’s second screen adventure, though James Earl Jones made a return appearance as his boss, Admiral Greer. This time an assassination attempt puts Ryan and his family in danger from an extreme IRA splinter cell. Extra points for the funniest cliffhanger ending in the entire series.
Harrison Ford returns along with director Phillip Noyce for a film regarded by many die-hard fans as their favorite. Here Ryan takes on the role of CIA Acting Deputy Director amid a complex drug war in Colombia, striking in a balance between hard-hitting action and sly intrigue that ended up earning two Oscar nominations for Sound and Sound Effects Editing.
The screen’s fourth Jack Ryan thriller ups the ante with the biggest shock twist of the series and switches casting again, this time with Ben Affleck in the lead. Morgan Freeman also takes over as the CIA Director for a tense tale of a ruthless neo-Nazi out to ignite a war between Russia and the U.S. at any cost. Though the film is significantly different from the book, Clancy nevertheless joined director Phil Alden Robinson for a commentary track on the film’s home video release that’s a whole entertainment experience unto itself.
Jack Ryan’s last cinematic stop to date before switching to the current TV series finds another change in personnel, this time with Chris Pine as a younger incarnation of the CIA analyst now under the directorial hand of Kenneth Branagh. Here the story is an original one not devised by Clancy, with Ryan’s wounding in combat after 9/11 sending him on a different career path working for the government and eventually heading to Moscow to uncover a plot to undermine U.S. interests at home and abroad.